Don't Make Your Heart A Garbage Can!
November 1, 2009
日本キリスト教団 頌栄教会牧師 清弘剛生 Pastor Takao Kiyohiro, Shoei Church, Church of Christ, Japan
Translator M.A.F., Indiana, USA
Celebrating All Saints' Day This Year
1. This year as well we have celebrated All Saint's Day. It is once a year, however, we put up a plaque in the sanctuary in which the names of the departed Christians are written. We gather here recalling to mind those whom we dearly miss. When I am right in front of this plaque, I am filled with solemn feelings with two meanings [for me].
2. First, these names remind me that we are running a race given to us as we are being watched over by many of Christ's witnesses. In The Epistle To The Hebrews it is written as follows. "Therefore, seeing that we are surrounded by this flock of a great number of witnesses, as we fix our eyes on Jesus who is the author and the completer of the faith, shall we not cast off every load and entangling sin and patiently run out the race that has been set for us?," (Hebrews 12:1-2). In this way then, we are running the race called life while the heavenly disciples congregate with [their] anticipation and attention [on our race].
3. Then second, these names remind me that the time is coming when we will finish running the race. A life is a certain limited period of time. Therefore, the hour will surely draw near when [life] will reach its conclusion. When we're done running, hopefully our family members and friends whom we've left behind will appreciate that race [of ours]. "He lived it right." Or maybe the heavenly disciples, who have been observing the race, will appreciate and acknowledge the value of [the way we ran the race]. But wait, even more important than that is that God acknowledges its value. [The race of life] will reach its conclusion. The important thing in our lives is not what happened around us or what the people around us did. It is what we thought and how and why we lived the way we did.
4. An entire year has passed since last year's All Saints' Day. I think it went fast. This accumulation of one year and then another is our lives. The accumulation of each "How did you live the year this time?" will turn into "How did you live your whole life?" In that sense as well, the Word of the Lord that we are hearing in this memorial service is important.
[We're] Not Made Unclean By Food
5. Well, the Word of the Lord we are cyclically given for today according to the day's biblical lesson is Mark chapter seven, which I read to you just ago. I would like for us to take note of, in particular, the words from verse fourteen and following, where after deliberately calling together a crowd of people Jesus addressed everyone. "Everyone, listen to what I am saying and gain insight! What goes into the body of a person from the outside is not what can make a person unclean, but what comes from inside the person makes the person unclean," (Mark 7:14-15).
6. This statement of "what goes into the body of a person from the outside" refers to food. Do each of you ever worry when you are eating food, "Will I be made unclean by it?" I hardly think you would. -- Because the general notion of "food making a person unclean" is not a part of our day to day existence. However, the Jews in the time of Jesus, especially the Pharisaic Jews were different. They believed that a person was made unclean by food, and that it mattered.
7. For example, they would wash their hands before a meal. This was not because of hygiene. It was a religious ritual. If they ate a meal with unwashed hands, they would be made unclean by that meal. And indeed, that wasn't all. Please look in this chapter beginning at verse three. This is what's written there. "All the Jews, beginning with the Pharisees, rigorously kept the ancient traditions of men, and would not eat a meal if it wasn't after they had washed their hands scrupulously, and when they would return from the market, they would not eat a meal if it wasn't after they had purified their bodies. Besides that, they had a lot of things to do which they had inherited from of old and had rigorously kept, like washing cups, bowls, copper vessels and couches," (verses three and four). At the market they might have come into contact with the religiously unclean (the Gentiles). So, they would become "unclean" if they did not purify their bodies [before] eating.
8. Taking this a bit further, what one ate mattered. In the Jewish world, there are such things as "unclean" food which one must not eat. Pork is representative of that. Eating tasty steaming hot pork chops is outrageous. But if [a Jew] did, he or she would be unclean. Even today, strict Jews, for example, do not eat randomly bought bread because it may potentially have lard in it. I heard that once in seminary from an Old Testament professor. This is the world of the law.
9. When we consider this type of background, we may understand how radical the words of Jesus are, which I read to you today. "What goes into the body of a person from the outside is not what can make a person unclean." That's what Jesus has declared. They are the kind of words where everybody with eyes wide open will want to say, "I'm so glad to hear you say that!"
[We're] Made Unclean By Words
10. However, Jesus said such an extreme statement in order to make the next one. The Lord made the following statement. "What comes out of a person makes the person unclean." So now, what did Jesus mean by this? It seems like the disciples hardly understood him. So, after the crowd went home, they asked Jesus [about it] privately, to which the Lord gave the following reply. "Are you so lacking in understanding also? Don't you see that everything which enters the body from the outside is unable to defile a person? It does not enter the person's heart, but enters the stomach, and then it is sent out," (verses eighteen and nineteen). It is translated in a refined way as "it is sent out," but actually the text says, "it is sent out into the latrine." Food does not enter the heart. It enters the stomach and then falls into the toilet. When you ponder being clean or unclean, isn't what matters not "the stomach" but "the heart?" Jesus is giving a way too realistic speech.
11. So if "the heart" is the problem, what is going into the heart and making the person unclean? It is not "the food," "it is what goes out of the person." It is what goes out of a person's heart. Jesus says, "It is because bad thoughts come out from the inside, that is, from the heart of the human being." How is "the bad thoughts that come out of the heart" defined? Later, specifically, it is in the text as "dirty behavior, stealing, intent to murder, adultery, greed, ill will, fraud, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance, thoughtlessness, and so on." We can never claim that these are not "bad deeds." But as they are considered in contrast with what enters the mouth, when [he] says, "bad thoughts come out the human heart," we should probably say that what Jesus is thinking about is "words" in particular.
12. That is, before the bad behavior, "words" related to it is the problem. Therefore, in The Gospel According To Matthew, where it is written later, it is expressed with a bit more detail as follows. "Don't you understand that everything that goes into the mouth passes through the stomach and is sent outside [the person]? But, since what comes out of the mouth comes out of the heart, this indeed makes the person unclean," (Matthew 15:17-18). Going by this it is plain and clear. "What comes out of the mouth comes out of the heart, and this indeed makes the person unclean." It is a message on the words that come out of the mouth. The very words themselves make a person unclean. As I mentioned earlier, the Jews paid attention to detail in the kind of food they put into their mouths. But there are times one must pay attention to more than that. [We must pay attention] to what kind of words we put into our hearts. -- Because our hearts are made unclean through words.
13. I have a feeling they understood the reason Jesus had said this. Please imagine with me the Jewish world of the law. The outward appearance is [that of] a very orderly and clean world. However, at the same time, very easily, the world of the law turns into a world in which people condemn one another in judgmentalism. They worry about how there are times that they are observant but grudgingly so, and that other people are observing [the law] just like they are. They cannot excuse them from being unobservant. They want to judge them. Many societies with customs and set rules easily turn into societies filled with slander and malicious gossip. There may be some of us here who while young had gone to a school with strict regulations. I think anybody who did will understand this deep down inside intuitively.
14. In a society filled with slander and malicious gossip, [people] will worry about how they are seen by others. The people who can't help but worry will do their best to make adjustments at the external level as they worry about how they are seen by others. But because they overdo it, they tend to start doing wrong in places unseen by them. Among peers serious about the external appearance, instances of unexpected coarse subjects enthusiastically being taken up can be found. Therefore, I conjecture that [the list of bad deeds such as] "lewdness, envy, slander" as Jesus named them, was probably all too familiar to those living in Jewish society. And actually, if you ever listen to stories about slander, gossip, adultery, and lewdness, and if you are in conversations with others and let this stuff into your heart, don't you think that your heart will certainly become dirty? I think it really does become like a garbage can.
15. When you look at it that way, this is not a story that has nothing to do with us. How is that true in practical terms? What kind of words do we usually take into our hearts? When we put ourselves in the kind of place where we join in a circle on a topic of slander or gossip, or when we defame someone who is not present, we can get at the very least in those times unexpectedly comfortable. Does that ever happen to you? Or possibly, you may be unexpectedly enjoying yourself when you are just with friends having an indecent conversation that you couldn't have with others. From out of that we can get a strong feeling of solidarity with them. So, against our better judgment, we end up putting ourselves there with them. Or, when we are worried that we are disconnected from everybody and will be spoken of badly sometime, and so against our better judgment we join the discussion. Don't you agree that this kind of thing happens?
16. But if you do things like that, your heart will certainly turn into a garbage can. That's for certain. And it doesn't end with just you yourself. The garbage can will begin to give off a foul odor. Before too long garbage will be overflowing out from it. Whatever the person has filled his or her heart with will come out of his or her mouth. It will. When we take words like that in to our fill, they will be regurgitated from our hearts and come out of our mouths. Then, we will soon make somebody else unclean. What kind of words do you let into your hearts? We must be careful.
17. Of course, even if we're careful, some of it will get in. Instances of a heart becoming dirty before a person even knows it can be found. We are not to just let it be. We don't ever leave the garbage can at home just as it is. We are to bring it to Jesus. Just as we are, we go to Jesus with our dirtied hearts. Even though we may have become unclean, we go to the One who will neither leave nor loathe us. Because Jesus hung on the cross in order to redeem the dirty sins of this world and of our own, and because he has brought us forgiveness of sin, we bring our dirty hearts right to Jesus. By vomiting out to Jesus the garbage of our hearts, let's be cleansed by Jesus' mercy! Also, let's get our hearts filled with divine words, and not with the words that come out of the dirty hearts of others! And let's live with Jesus, who is the very word of God!
18. That is the [calendar] cycle of every day living which is given to us by the grace of God. It turns into one full year, within which the accumulation of that cycle is made. Each cyclical accumulation year by year turns into our entire lives. When [I] finish my life, as [I] look back over it, I would like it not to have turned out that my life was a garbage can overflowing with garbage.